Innovation and Re-birth

Fashion takes many courses throughout the years.  Sometimes we see brand new innovations, and other times there are re-births of past designs and fashion trends.  The 1950s saw a combination of these.


Family taking photograph at Danbury Fair. About 1955. 1999.16.353.

With the end of WWII came new trends in fashion.  During the war many materials, such as fabric and metal, had been shifted away from public consumers and towards the war effort.  The end of the war meant the return of these commodities to the general public.  While metal could return to use in zippers and other sewing notions nylon fibers were once again used to create fabrics and women’s stockings.  One of the major uses of Nylon in the 1950s was for undergarments, such as nylon slips and nylon net petticoats.  These petticoats helped create the iconic look of the 1950s: slim waist, large skirt.


Dress. 1950s. Gift of Katherine S. Hoffman. 2000.153.0.

This dress incorporates both a metal side zipper, and multiple layers of nylon net on a built-in petticoat to achieve the desired fullness of the skirt.  Just as women used the optical illusion in the 1850s to create slim waists with wide skirts, women in the 1950s used the same illusion.


Dress. About 1855. Gift of Mrs. John O. Flasch. 1954.23.2a-d.

See…nothing new is really new.  Also, the use of multiple gathered layers of nylon netting to gain oomph in the petticoat was a tactic used by women in the 1850s when creating cotton petticoats with many tiers.

The addition of metal zippers in garments made clothing increasingly easier to take on and off.  Instead of using a series of buttons, snaps, and hooks and eyes to close garments, a simple metal zipper could be employed.  If you are interested in reading more about the complicated closures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, check out this blog post.  You can see why a single side zipper would be so much easier to handle!

Not only were the 1950s full of re-births of old fashion silhouettes, the decade also gave us some iconic styles that we see coming back today.  Not only through the wearing of vintage 1950s clothing, but through the use of design elements popular in the 1950s…


Woman’s Shoes. 1955-1960. Gift of Robert Grant Irving. 1994.207.1.

Oxford shoes were very popular in the 1950s (as they had been for a decade or so before) but their design incorporated on high-heeled, pointy toed shoes was something new.  Have you seen a recent fashion magazine lately?  These seem to be coming back.  I have a pair in my own closet, in fact.

Another style from the 1950s that seems to be seeing a resurgence, is the small hat.  They’ve increased in popularity thanks to Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and have become the fascinator seen from the runways to the streets.


Woman’s Cap. 1950s. Gift of Robert Grant Irving. 1994.207.11.

The post-war decade of the 1950s saw many changes in fashion.  Some were re-births of earlier styles, and others would be re-birthed decades later.  One of my favorite past times will always be to flip through my new fashion magazine and see if I can figure out the decade the style was first popular during.  Dorky, I know.  But try it some time…you might learn something!

This entry was posted in Collections and tagged , by Karen. Bookmark the permalink.

About Karen

Karen DePauw is a Research and Collections Associate at The Connecticut Historical Society. Along with aiding patrons who visit the museum in their research efforts, Karen works behind the scenes with the costume and textile collection. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History, double minoring in Theatre and Theology, from Quincy University. Karen obtained her Master of Science degree at the University of Rhode Island in Textiles, Fashion Merchandising, and Design, with a specialization in Historic Costumes and Textiles.

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